Rotting river of rubbish
A 50-metre rubbish trail - featuring televisions and household goods a decade old - discovered on public conservation land has set back years of work to restore the Pirongia Forest Park near Te Awamutu.
The pile of rubbish, hidden down a steep gully on a bend of the gravel-clad Pirongia West Rd, could cost the public thousands of dollars to remove.
The maximum penalty for illegal dumping includes two years' imprisonment and a fine of $300,000. Authorities were keen to identify the "criminals" responsible for the mess but admit it was a long shot.
Pirongia resident Andy Johns was told about the river of rubbish and went to the southwestern edge of the forest park.
What he found appalled him.
Dropping sharply over the side of Pirongia West Rd, into nikau, fern and supplejack were two strips of junk and litter about 50m long and 10m wide.
"It's unacceptable and it's morally wrong," said Johns. "This is as bad as it gets; it doesn't get any worse than this."
Johns lives under the mountain's shadow and said the dump went against everything the rural community stood for.
"It's clandestine and it [dumping] has been going on for a long time and it was only found because it was chanced upon.
"I feel quite strongly about this and someone really does need to be held accountable."
Department of Conservation spokesman Des Williams said staff had been aware of the dump "for some time" and it was part of a nationwide problem in secluded areas.
One of the empty milk bottles at the foot of the heap had an expiration date from 2004.
"If we could find some evidence that would be acceptable to a courtroom, and that can sometimes be difficult, we would certainly investigate taking legal proceedings."
He said the department's acting services manager for Pirongia, Dion Patterson, would visit the area to assess the site.
The dumped rubbish is 3 kilometres from the Hihikiwi Track entrance, which is part of Te Araroa, the national walking trail, and could have ramifications for the tourist industry.
"That's terrible in terms of clean and green," said Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty.
"We are just building the reputation of that amazing walking track, and it's . . . something we really need because it attracts people to the area."
Pirongia had important cultural and recreational values, she said, and rats would thrive in the rubbish and threaten native birds and insects.
Waikato Regional Council incident response manager Derek Hartley said the council was worried contaminants from the dump could enter waterways and threaten native species.
Hartley and Otorohanga District Council environmental services manager Andrew Loe were prepared to send staff to sift through the waste.
"These guys are just criminals basically, they are evading dump fees," said Loe.
Loe said most rural councils had to deal with similar problems. The Waikato Times also received feedback from its online readers, with reports of dumped furniture, household rubbish and drug paraphernalia on roadsides around the region.
"For every incident, it's two guys and a truck, half a day's labour and $100 worth of tip fees," said Loe.
In a July 2013 request, three district councils provided the Times with costs for cleaning up illegally dumped rubbish, with the Matamata-Piako council forking out $98,000 and Waipa and Waikato councils both spending $44,000 of ratepayers' money.
Loe said large-scale dumping was difficult to clean up.
"Often the only thing that we can do is, when we are doing roadworks, we take spoil from the road and we try to cover some of the stuff up."
Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society chair and Pirongia Ward councillor for the Waipa council Clare St Pierre said it turned the clock back on efforts to restore the natural environment.
"I was really upset when I saw the scale of this rubbish dumping," said St Pierre.
"It is so distressing to see the abuse of our treasured forest park."